Speech of IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín

Speech of IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín at the Official Opening of the Mid- Year Meeting San Diego, California April 7, 2011 Today more than ever We have heard reports, evidence and pronouncements that clearly show the dangers that freedom of expression and of the press is facing in the Western Hemisphere. A brief look at the situation shows that the deterioration is considerable and that the task we have before us demands efforts that should not only be consistent and energetic but that we also be a capable of creating public awareness, in the sense that the greatest danger is not for the media and journalists but for the right of the common man and woman to receive information. The people’s freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right to inform and be informed is something that is uncomfortable for those who govern or public officials who are intolerant and tend to be authoritarian. They do not like the free flow of information, they do not like information to be in the hands of the people. Laws restricting press freedom and verbal attacks which we constantly hear and see on videos that are shown in our meetings on the part of Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Cristina Kirchner, just to mention the most recent ones, are a practice that is being repeated from one country to another and appear to be part of a strategic plan to do away with the independent press and to undermine its credibility (which let us not forget is the most cherished value that we journalists have), so as to advance in their efforts to have only media with supportive voices and thus a monopoly of information. Some have called the press the fourth estate. I think that in reality we are not a fourth estate but, in fact the necessary counterweight that those in power need, we are the eyes and ears of society and, to put it this way, the press, we journalists, are the instrument of oversight that society has in order to be aware of what those governing it do or fail to do. Chávez has woven a tangled web of restrictive laws. In Venezuela, as we all know, journalists and news media are persecuted, and radio and television silenced, harassed or simply shut down, but always on the pretext of legality. And how is it not legal what that government does if it is Chávez himself who approves or disapproves the laws at his convenience? And as the results have been favorable for so far, the Correas, Fernándezes, Moraleses and Ortegas resort to the same bad habits to control information. They well know that if they can control they can remain in power, as they are doing. In Cuba there are no dissident voices. In these other countries very few are left, but at least we can say that they are the voices of the courageous, of the lovers of liberty, of those that do not go down on their knees for money or under pressure. The worthy press has not given in, but we all have to defend it, we must get the people to come together to fight alongside us. They have money, they have power. They manipulate the laws, they have the ability to persecute and shut down media. As they have assembled pro-government media, financed with the public’s money, they have the ability to discredit. But we have something that is much more valuable – we have right on our side, because we are not defending particular interests but waging a battle in favor of the principles of freedom and democratic values. In Mérida we reiterated that the problem is not one of ideology. No way. Attitudes such as those of the authoritarian regimes which I mentioned, military dictatorships or conservative governments such as that of Fujimori in Peru, had them previously. It is therefore not a battle of ideologies. When those in power feel threatened they tend to seek control over information. Here in this country there have been cases of judges ordering the investigation of Tweeters who might be linked to Wikileaks, a tool that has been used to transfer information to news outlets around the world. There were voices in Washington in favor of placing controls over the Internet. Thank goodness respect for and the weight of the First Amendment still has a strength that goes beyond political interest. And that is why I think our biggest challenge is to achieve in Latin America an understanding that what here is the First Amendment, the right to have an opinion and to be informed, is equally enshrined in all our constitutions, but when it is not respected, when it is erased by abusive legislative swipes, what is being attacked are the people, not just journalists. I will not accept that we are losing the battle for freedom of expression. No way. This is a war that possibly never ends but which we must wage day by day, but I insist that we need the citizens of all countries to be our allies. We need on our side all people who love liberty, who want for themselves and for their families better countries built on the basis of that liberty, with justice and opportunities for all. We already know, then, that the visible enemies of freedom of expression are those intolerant, authoritarian politicians with dreams of remaining in power. It is not difficult for us to identify them. We know them by first and last names. But we are facing another kind of enemy, this one more dangerous even than the other, because it is acting clandestinely and does not even need to amend or twist laws to attack the press. I am speaking of organized crime. Curiously, both enemies basically seek the same thing – to control information. Mexico is the leading expression of this problem. Journalists in the neighboring country are looking for mechanisms for self-defense, because they do not want to be silent. We have indeed heard heartrending testimony of what is occurring just a few miles from here, on the northern Mexican border, survivors telling how they have had to flee their country in order to remain alive, because friends and colleagues of theirs had been slain in carrying their role. The government of President Calderón has pledged to the IAPA that he will shortly provide guarantees for the work of the press, but to date the efforts have not been sufficient and it is evident that there has to be political will of all the branches of government to bring it about. The list of countries that are undergoing complicated situations regarding press freedom is long. Not escaping this either are Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Peru and Brazil. I would say that the entire hemisphere, some parts more than others and some less, is showing some negative situation. But that is not enough to make us pessimistic. On the contrary, it should serve as an incentive, a special motivation, for us to keep our heads up and continue speaking to the people of the Americas so that they think and reflect on the matter. Can there by democracy without freedom? A people without information, can it choose freely? Without independent media, who will inform and keep an eye on the governments of the day? The task of the press is to democratize information. That is to say that we exist because we have the obligation to disseminate information and put it at the disposal of public opinion. Certainly we must do so observing journalism’s principles and values, because not to do so is to open up a flank through which the enemy could attack us more effectively. It is only fair to say that the Inter American Press Association is not an organization that defends the interests of companies or members. Our organization was founded on and exists with a key mission – to defend the essence of freedom. The Declaration of Chapultepec, adopted and signed by politicians, thinkers, presidents and leaders throughout the Americas, sets out many conclusive reflections regarding press freedom and I would like to end with a phrase from that document. It says: “A free press enables societies to resolve their conflicts, promote their well-being and protect their liberty. No law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium.” Convinced, then, of the need to maintain this collective freedom the IAPA reiterates today, more than ever, its determination to continue to be a standard-bearer of the fight for liberty. Thank you very much.